Meeting Donor Siblings: The Postmodern Family Vacation

I sifted through my Sunday paper yesterday morning, pulling out the usual bits – coupons, TV guide, Target ad, and USA Weekend. On the latter’s cover were pictures of the characters from NBCs debut of “The New Normal” and the corresponding story inside was titled “The Postmodern Family.”

“The Postmodern Family?”  Really?  How could I resist?

The article talked about the multitude of upcoming shows based on non-traditional families. TV historian Tim Brooks notes that television has often presented us with non-traditional families, as it reflects what’s already going on in our current society. For example, The Brady Bunch in its time reflected “the trend of a blended family,” where adults with children from previous marriages came together to form a new family unit.

This particular example rather amused me, as I just had a Very Brady Summer Vacation…

Back when I was pregnant with my son, there was a story on one of those news shows- 60 Minutes or 20/20- about the Donor Sibling Registry and families who had found each other through it.  These were families who had used the same donor in order to have their children. The story was about a set of half-siblings whose families had contacted each other with the help of the Registry, gotten to know one another, and eventually not only met, but went on a family vacation together.

I was amazed and impressed by the story, but at the same time was somewhat taken aback.  “That is great for them,” I thought to myself, “but I cannot imagine me doing that.  I think I would feel a little weird.”

The whole idea of using a donor, of having a child on my own, was so new to me at that point.  And while I was curious about other families that had used the same donor and was not above communicating with them, even meeting with them, I could not really picture myself hanging out down the shore with them.  It just seemed a little “out there” for me.

Nearly six years later, Little Man and I found ourselves on a plane to the West Coast for vacation. Where were we going? To meet two of his siblings and their moms and hang out at a beach house…down the shore…for a week.  Wait, what?

Explaining this to outside folks, hearing the words coming out of my mouth, it sounded so surreal. It was so interesting, fascinating.  People were fascinated. Truly. And excited. Excited at the opportunity for Little Man and for the mystery of it all. Perhaps we three Moms should write a pilot for our own show. I bet it would sell, too.  We have tons of material.

We had actually already met one of the siblings twice before, as he and his mom live in a nearby state. The other one we had never met.  We were going on vacation with people we had never met before. A little voice in the back of my head screamed, “what are you thinking?!” Yet the rest of my brain, the bigger, louder, more intuitive part, somehow knew it would be alright. That it was right. We have all kept in contact for so many years through FB, that in an odd way I did feel like I knew them.

Still, as we sat on the plane, eating our complimentary peanuts and drinking our tomato juice, little black clouds of doubt appeared in my mind, like pop-up thunderstorms in the summertime: what if the boys don’t get along? What if the moms don’t get along?  What if they don’t like him?  What if they don’t like me? What if we don’t like them?

And yet, it all seemed to fall into place.  We met Brother 1 and his mom at the airport and proceeded to our rental car, following the directions to meet Brother 2, the one neither of us had met before. We immediately discovered that two boys born three days apart are LOUD. Being a one-child family, that was the first of many revelations. The boys were all so excited to meet each other, and spent quite a bit of time (after bonding over Angry Birds) running around shouting “Brother Hug!” followed by a sort of pile-on brother sandwich. They got along surprisingly well, although not without the typical arguments that ensue when you have both children of a similar age and siblings. We got a brief yet sufficient taste of what it might be like to have triplets.

Overall, it was a typical family vacation.  We got lost going somewhere we were sure we knew how to find.  We got sunburned at the beach. One brother spiked a mystery fever a few days in and was out of commission for two days. We went to an amusement park. We lost power and spent ½ an hour searching for candles and matches and flashlights with dead batteries. We took TONS of pictures. We bought souvenirs. We laughed a lot.

And in the Very Brady tradition, the boys decided to put on a play, which they wrote and performed for us.

All too quickly the week passed by and as the time came to leave, I felt as though I was parting with friends I had know for a long time. As Gonzo says, “there’s not a word yet for old friends who’ve just met.” At the end of the week, the “three brothers from other mothers” went their separate ways, back to their individual families, yet having a clearer sense of a larger familial bond out there. There is still a brother and three sisters we know of that we have not yet met.  I wonder what other family outings lie in our future?

And that was just our FIRST summer adventure. Upon leaving our beach home, we met up with my mom and set off even further west, to visit my brother and his wife. Well, that sounds like a ‘regular’ family vacation, right? Ummmm…yes and no.  So, both of my parents were married before and each had a son from their previous marriage.  I grew up in the same house with the brother we were going to visit, although I had not seen him since I was a junior in high school. He was in the military for many years and was overseas for much of that time.  He had seen our mom more recently than me, although it had been far too long for her, too. We write occasionally and talk on the phone at Christmas.  He and my sister-in-law were married in the Philippines where she is from while they were both in the service, and we had never met her although they’ve been married for several years. My son as not met either of them before.

And so we sat on yet another plane, crossing the Pacific, headed for a new week of a very different family vacation. Once again, the scene was surreal as I headed out to spend another week with someone I had never met before.  It just did not really seem to be happening. When I told people about this impending trip, they were excited, but also in disbelief.  How could I not have seen my own brother for so long? I mean, what was wrong with us, anyway? No one said that, of course, but I could tell that some people were thinking it.

And you know what?  I didn’t really care. Circumstances were what they were and we simply did not have the funds on either end to make it happen. It was only by a bizarre twist of fate that I was able to make it happen now (but that story will have to wait for another post). The point was, it was happening now.

We finally got to meet my brother’s wife at the airport when they came to pick us up.  I haven’t seen my brother in such a long time I actually walked right past him at the baggage claim (although, to be fair, I was distracted by my mother who was fretting at the time over how we were going to find him), but the minute I heard his voice, I whipped around.  My son was just beaming with excitement. He hugged his uncle and auntie, just thrilled to be in their presence.

It didn’t take long for these pieces to fall into place, either.  Before the end of the day, Little Man and his Auntie were snuggled together on the couch watching PBS. My brother was cracking jokes and our mom was giggling hysterically. We settled in and were made to feel completely at home.

Overall, it was a typical family vacation.  We got stuck in tourist traffic.  We used lots of sunscreen.  Mom had tummy trouble. We went to an amusement park. My SIL had a problem with a client and had to stay home for part of our adventures.  We took TONS of pictures.  We bought souvenirs.  We laughed A LOT.

Again the week flew by and I found it hard to believe that it was already time to go. We had not seen each other in so long, yet it felt as if no time had passed at all between our visits. Having been surrounded by so many people over the past two weeks, it seemed a little odd to be heading home, just the Little Man and me. Yet as much as I enjoyed our travels, I was happy to soon be back to our own little house in our own little beds. It’s always nice to come back home again.

At home, we were met at the airport by yet another part of our family, what we refer to as our “extended” family, which contains honorary uncles and aunts who have been friends of mine for many years but are so close they might as well be official family members. We recounted to Uncle Charles as many of our adventures as our sleepy heads could conjure. He dropped us at our house and left us both with a hug and a kiss, and the promise to meet up with him and Uncle Stuart soon to recount the many stories we had to tell.

The USA Weekend article in Sunday’s paper talked about how the new season’s shows “push boundaries” in their depiction of families today. My family may not be “traditional,” but I assure you I’m not actually trying to push any boundaries; I’m just trying to live my life.

What is “the new normal?” It’s quite simple, really. My family, in all its variations, is full of love and that, to me, is exactly what a “normal” family should be.



To discuss this and other SMC topics, join SMC and take part in our discussions on our lively online 24/7 Forum and at local chapter meetings.

“I've been part of the SMC community since I was thinking about getting pregnant. They always have my back with useful, nuanced advice, trustworthy info, and personal experience. I feel honored to be a member, and to see all the children grow up alongside mine.”

– Sophie Holland